Lee awarded for innovative research in chemistry

Young-Jin Lee, associate professor of chemistry, has been named the recipient of the 2016 Trapp Innovation Award. The annual award provides funding to a faculty member who is pursuing new or unusual research in chemistry or the physical sciences.

Lee is an innovative chemist studying biological mass spectrometry – a technique used to measure the mass of a molecule. His work develops new mass spectrometry techniques to understand plant metabolic biology at a cellular and eventually subcellular levels.

Currently, researchers are able to visualize macromolecules, such as DNA, RNA, and proteins, using mass spectrometry. However, they do not have the ability to measure very small molecules, which would reveal details in highly complex multicellular plant organisms that have yet to be discovered.

“Young-Jin’s work is an excellent example of the innovative research in our college,” said Beate Schmittmann, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “His research has the potential to provide scientists around the world with new ways to access information about cells, which could lead to new discoveries in cancer, environmental and biomedical research. The Trapp Award is a great recognition for Young-Jin.”

Lee and his team use mass spectrometry imaging’s ability to take a small sample from a small area on a molecule to view the function of several cells. This research provides information on many cells, which is then averaged to see general results.

Lee’s current project uses his new imaging techniques to retrieve information from every single cell, instead of looking at an average of many cells. These techniques could reveal new information about a cell’s exact composition, as well as detect cells in a sample that were previously unknown. This research could open doors to new information in cancer and stem cell research, as well as many other areas in biological and biomedical areas.

Young-Jin Lee earned his Ph.D from Seoul National University in 1997. After working on surface mass spectrometry for Hyundai Electronics, he moved to Indiana to develop ion mobility mass spectrometry as a post-doctoral fellow in 2000. Before joining the Iowa State faculty in 2008, he worked at the University of California at Davis’ Genome Center as a mass spectrometry specialist.